Monday, April 03, 2006

Chavez a Hot Topic in Mexican Campaign

The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 29, 2006; 2:52 PM

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's presidential race has gone sharply negative with attempts to tie the front-runner to Hugo Chavez and portray him as a leftist revolutionary in the same mold as the Venezuelan president.

After weeks of leveling unsubstantiated allegations that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's campaign has been infiltrated by Chavez supporters, the conservative National Action Party went even further in a TV ad aired this month.

The commercial takes a clip from a diplomatic flap last year in which Chavez warned Mexican President Vicente Fox: "Don't mess with me sir. You'll get stung." Then it cuts to video of Lopez Obrador yelling at Fox: "Shut up, citizen president."

"Say no to intolerance," it concludes.

From 2,200 miles away in Caracas, Chavez spoke up to complain that "The Mexican right is using television spots ... to try and stop the rise of the Mexican left and of its presidential candidate."

Then Lopez Obrador's opponents, who had dragged Chavez's name into the race in the first place, demanded a federal probe into whether the Venezuelan's retort violated Mexico's law against foreign interference in elections.

So far, the fuss has done little to shrink Lopez Obrador's lead over former Fox energy secretary Felipe Calderon, his nearest rival, four months ahead of the vote. Lopez Obrador says he has never met Chavez, or even spoken with him by phone.

"Our adversaries are very desperate," he said recently.

His opponents portray the former Mexico City mayor as a demagogue who will scare off foreign investment, antagonize Washington, nationalize more industries and leave Mexico deeply in debt.

Chavez and his socialist revolution fed by Venezuela's oil wealth are the sharp end of a Latin American trend toward electing left-leaning leaders after a decade in which free-market economics failed to substantially dent the region's chronic poverty.

Lopez Obrador's base is certainly what he calls Mexico's "poor and forgotten." As mayor of 8.7 million in the "Distrito Federal," he provided cash grants to the needy and financed expensive public works, including a second deck on two major city highways and a new bus system designed to ease traffic woes.

Opponents claim he left the capital more indebted than ever, though convoluted bookkeeping makes that difficult to confirm.

Now he promises to hold down fuel prices at the likely expense of the state-run oil monopoly and other business interests. But he insists he's a moderate, inclusive politician who will welcome international investment and keep Washington happy.

Fox, constitutionally limited to one six-year term, leaves office in December, six months after the July 2 vote, and there are already signs institutional momentum is flowing in Lopez Obrador's direction _ Fox's former chief of staff joined his campaign this month.

Running with the leftist Democratic Revolution Party and two smaller factions, Lopez Obrador holds a 10-plus point lead over Calderon in most polls. Roberto Madrazo, the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party that controlled Mexico's presidency from 1929 until 2000, trails even further behind.

Major business leaders who may soon have to work with a Lopez Obrador administration have been careful not to publicly criticize him. Jose Luis Barraza, president of the pro-private sector Business Coordination Council, denies assertions that the economy will suffer if he wins.

Business leaders have gotten used to the prospect of a Lopez Obrador victory, said Michael Lettieri of the Council On Hemispheric Affairs in Washington.

"Most see him as pretty moderate," Lettieri said. "They are coming to realize he's not this terrifying communist bogeyman who is going to nationalize all kinds of sectors."

Still, analysts see signs of nervousness. Lopez Obrador has promised to reopen the books on banking privatization scandals that presaged the 1994 peso collapse. Such a crusade could lead to charges against some former banking leaders and business people.

"For now, everything is calm, but some of his statements, especially recently, have been exaggeratedly populist," said Yasmin Corona, an analyst at Bursametrica, a financial consulting company in Mexico City. "There is fear in certain sectors."

Pamela Starr, an analyst at Eurasia Group in Washington, says Mexican business is "afraid he's becoming like Chavez, saying reasonable things now but changing when he gets in power."

But Larry Rubin, head of the American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico, says most investors think the country's economy will stay stable regardless of who is in power and can live with any of the three major contenders.
© 2006 The Associated Press

Related News: Dick Morris's take on the immigration debate.

Feathers says: Do you think this news just affect Mexicans? Well, think again. I wonder how much the US will like to have 2,000-mile of open border to Fidel and Chavez... geez. Your worst enemy is moving just right across the street, America. The US don't have to worry ONLY about muslim extremism, they have a buch of other problems on the backyard as well. And it seems that a lot of coorporate interest are lobbying to keep the cheap labor fluent... the US will pay very bad this mistake, if they don't take actions now.

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